Marvel’s first Avenger is Captain of this year’s superhero field.
The superhero summer of 2011 finishes with the film that many will agree is the best of the bunch. Part of the charm of “Captain America” is that it feels like an old-fashioned period piece as it combines a solid origin story and terrific cast. It also contains one of the year’s best CGI effects, which, refreshing as it is surprising, has nothing to do with an explosion or some outer space mega-battle.
Seeing star Chris Evans as the CGI-created, scrawny “90 pound asthmatic” Steve Rogers who desperately wants to join the military and battle WWII Nazis is a technical wonder. Rogers’ pluck and determination is noticed by a German-born scientist (Stanley Tucci) who’s been commissioned to use his experimental technology to create super soldiers.
If you’ve seen the trailers you know that an incredible transformation occurs and Rogers emerges from a whiz-bang lab chamber looking like, well, the real life much taller, hunkier Evans. (It’s too bad this scene couldn’t have been kept a secret.)
Still, it’s fascinating to watch, especially the early scenes that develop our affection for the little guy who doesn’t like bullies and gets pummeled by them regularly.
Meanwhile in Europe, a victim of similar experiments, a red ghoul of a megalomaniac (Hugo Weaving), is using a supernatural weapon to develop the Hydra, one of Hitler’s special, secret forces. Hilariously and believably, the U.S. uses new hero “Captain America,” as Rogers is branded, in propaganda revues using dance numbers and a catchy theme song (“The Star Spangled Man with a Plan!”) to sell bonds and boost American morale.
But, have no fear, eventually our hero rallies the troops and goes behind enemy lines to defeat the arch enemy, rescue his buddy Sgt. James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), win over a crusty commanding officer (an in-top-form Tommy Lee Jones), and make swoon a beautiful British agent (no-CGI-required Hayley Atwell). Predictable stuff for sure, but done with panache and a keen art-deco visual style by director Joe Johnston (“The Rocketeer” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”).
Underscored by a rousing and very John Williams-like score by Alan Silvestri, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is perfectly suitable summertime entertainment. It combines the right elements of brisk storytelling and light touches of comedy without resorting to gimmicks or bombast. It blends elements of similar movies dating back to the original “Superman” and more recent “Iron Man” franchises.
Fans of “The Avengers” will likely see this film mostly as a set-up to next year’s film that will bring many of these Marvel characters together. But casual fans can enjoy “Captain America: The First Avenger” for its simple and well-crafted pleasure.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence.
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